Raising the Bar: The World Cup
Bringing The World Cup to Omaha: Omaha Plays Host to the World’s Top Equestrian Athletes
When the Omaha Equestrian Foundation
(OEF) hosts the Longines FEI World Cup Finals March 29 through April 2 at the CenturyLink Center, it will be achieving a milestone significant not only for the organization, but also for the city of Omaha.
“This is the first world championship in sports, except for boxing title fights, that Omaha’s ever hosted. This is a great event for Omaha because it puts Omaha on the world stage in a way it’s never been before,” CEO Mike West explained. “It’s very complicated, very complex and very exciting. We have an obligation to do a great job to lay the groundwork for what potentially could be multiple, different professional championships that we never even thought of—the way they once didn’t think of the things we are hosting now like the NCAA College World Series, the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials and the Pinnacle Bank (Golf) Championship.”
OEF was created in 2010 primarily to bring large-scale equestrian events to the area, founder and operating board member Lisa Roskens said, and it’s been a whirlwind of success since 2012 when the organization first hosted The International, a competition of jumping and dressage (riding with emphasis on form) events. The International set the stage for the even bigger World Cup Finals.
“In order to host anything of this caliber, you have to have proven you can host at various levels leading up to it. So The International was critical, because we couldn’t even host an FEI-sanctioned event until we had hosted the top level of a U.S.-level-sanctioned event,” she said, explaining that FEI (Fédération Equestre Internationale) is the top-level international federation for equestrian sports. “We literally would not have been allowed to bid. There are very specific requirements you have to meet and you have to be able to show that you’ve met them.”
Energy and excitement
Both the FEI World Cup Dressage Final and the FEI World Cup Jumping Final will be part of this spring’s events and feature the world’s best horses and riders in their respective classes. Five years of hosting The International with flying colors made the designation
for World Cup Finals hosting possible in another important way, Roskens added, and helped Omaha beat out larger cities like London and Hong Kong.
“The second piece of it is that The International created a community, it created an environment, it created an energy and excitement in Omaha and the broader equestrian community. I wouldn’t want to host the World Cup Finals if I didn’t feel like people wouldn’t get excited about it,” she said. “This energy and excitement convinced me that we could host The World Cup event not just from a technical perspective, but from an exciting international sporting event perspective.”
Jon Garner, Director of Sport for the event, has seen equestrian competitions in cities all over the world but said Omaha offers some singular advantages.
“One of the exciting things about the finals being here is that sometimes in the big major centers they can get lost. So having it in a city like Omaha, it will really stand out on its own like the major event that it is. That’s what I’ve noticed about the city; they really do get behind special events,” he said. “One of the hopes is that we’ll ultimately start to reach a new audience and create new fans across North America for equestrian sports. To put it in an area of the country, an area of the world, where it’s never been before—that’s potentially a massive opportunity for sure.”
The logistical undertaking for the World Cup Finals is massive as well, West said, even with five years’ experience hosting The International with some of the same elements. The number of vendors increases from 60 to 200, for instance, the restaurant area expands from 8,000 square feet to 20,000, and the educational expo doubles in size to 20,000 square feet. Up to 5,000 area schoolchildren will be brought in over the course of the event for field trips and the chance to experience the equestrian world, well above the number The International has entertained. And then there are the accommodations for more than 120 members of the international press and media teams organizing broadcasting for 61 countries and delayed U.S. broadcast on NBC. Finally, the arena will provide seating for 13,000 spectators, 2,000 more than in the past.
“We’ve had great crowds at The International but this will be four times as many people,” West said. “We’ve had to have great partners. We’ve contracted with new people, we’ve hired an extra employee, we are contracting and working with the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau on handling all our housing needs because we’re expecting to have somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000 room-nights for this event.”
The size of the event and number of people involved plus the global aspect adds layers of complexity, West added. Time zones and language barriers and the involvement of multiple governing bodies all have had to be considered as plans progressed. “We have contracted with experts all over the world,” he said.
However, five years of hosting the International made it clear that OEF, the facility and (best of all) the community are all up to the task of hosting the even larger World Cup Finals, Roskens said.
“The CenturyLink Center was not built to be an outstanding equestrian venue; it just happens to have been built in a way that makes it an outstanding equestrian venue. You couldn’t host it here in any other building,” she said. “Plus, the way the city is laid out—with the venue so close to the airport, with all the hotels and restaurants and the Old Market and an exciting arts and entertainment district—it’s a huge advantage.
“Another piece of the puzzle is that we have a great and highly reputable group of people involved in this event from our steering committee to our staff; they knew we had the support of the community and we had people who could execute the event. That may sound obvious, but there are a lot of cities that have great staff but don’t have the same kind of community support: the government, the not-for-profit, the private sector, all the sections of the community.”
The community has also stepped up by providing a plethora of volunteer support, too, West said. “Being part of doing something for the community and making a splash is a really fun thing. And it does not matter what your skill sets are, there’s something for you.”
The human team members will be executing the final touches when the equine competitors already on the continent will arrive to horse-hospitable quarters within the CenturyLink Center just days before competition, Roskens said. The horses traveling from points abroad will arrive on a large chartered plane in stall-like crates.
“They will land at Eppley Airfield. They’ll go through USDA inspection, the people traveling with them will go through customs and immigration, and they’ll then be shipped by van directly to the CenturyLink Center where they’ll be in quarantine. None of the other horses will arrive until (the overseas horses’) blood tests have cleared the labs in Ames, Iowa; we are fortunate in that there is a USDA lab only a few hours away,” Roskens said. “So these horses arrive on Saturday and will hopefully be cleared for U.S. horses to arrive on Monday. And then the competition starts on Wednesday.”
Top horse-and-rider teams qualify for the World Cup Finals in the months leading up to the competition, West said. “We will, for the World Cup Finals, have the top riders in the world. Olympic-caliber riders,
the absolute best,” he said.
However, one event including local riders, The Grand Prix, takes place on Saturday night and emphasizes performance over competition, Roskens said.
“It’s an opportunity for our local riders and the riders we’ve gotten to know and love from The International Omaha to be able to participate with the top riders in the world,” she said. Riders will perform to live music, showcasing local musicians, and some of the participants will include Olympians and Paralympians.
Competitions will also feature opening ceremonies with performers like the Omaha Symphony and Chip Davis, she added. “It will be a pretty blockbuster entertainment experience before the horses even trot in the ring. It will feel like a party and expose people from all over the world to the Omaha arts scene.”
And like any great party, everyone is welcome, West said. Even people who’ve never been around horses will enjoy the competition, the entertainment, the food and drink, or the world-class shopping.
“It’s an incredible experience for people of all ages, and having the competitors so accessible and being able to get up-close and see the amazing things riders and horses do—it’s striking,” West said. “I do believe we have something for everybody, and I would challenge anyone to come in and not find something that would be incredibly entertaining for them…So be a part. If you’re a volunteer or you just come down for the shopping or educational expo, or if you want to see the world-class competitors, be a part of the first world championship event ever hosted in Omaha.”
“We really want people to be part of this, whether you come down and just enjoy the free family expo or buy tickets for the whole week—this is really something. This is Omaha’s first world- championship event and is really an opportunity to be a part of putting Omaha on the international map,” Roskens said. “I think the Omaha community has been incredible, but the Omaha community is always incredible. This town has done so much with not a large group of people. I think we think we’re bigger and better than maybe the outside world views us. And because we’re always trying to prove ourselves to the broader world, we make things happen that probably sometimes even surprise ourselves. Just look around and what’s been built here and what’s happened. I’m not surprised the Omaha community embraced this as fully as it has, but I’m incredibly grateful.”
“This is a great event for Omaha because it puts
Omaha on the world stage
in a way it’s never been before.”
~ Mike West